Prince Charles praised Canada's soldiers and the "extraordinary resilience" of Manitobans in a speech Wednesday night that capped a whirlwind tour for him and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The Prince of Wales addressed dignitaries and the newest members of the Order of Manitoba during an investiture ceremony at the provincial legislature, before he and Camilla left Canada from 17 Wing Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg.

"We'll treasure the memories of this visit and the warmth and sincerity of your welcome. Merci, thank you, and, I hope, à bientôt," he said.

Fourteen individuals were inducted into the Order of Manitoba, including gold-medal curling skip Jennifer Jones, retired Manitoba Hydro president Bob Brennan, and Israel Idonije, the first graduate of the University of Manitoba Bisons to play in the National Football League.

Charles paid tribute to Manitobans and their "extraordinary resilience," mentioning the Red River Floodway — informally known as "Duff's Ditch."

"I know very well, ladies and gentlemen, of the reputation for extraordinary resilience required by the citizens of Manitoba, a province so often tested by adversity," he said.

"On our way to Winnipeg yesterday evening, we flew over Duff's Ditch, an innovative and forward-looking initiative of the 1960s that continues to defend this community against the might of the Red River."

Charles also noted that 75 years ago, in the days leading up to the start of the Second World War, his grandfather King George VI delivered a speech "from the second floor of Government House in Winnipeg."

"In the months and the years that followed, and indeed to this very day, large numbers of Manitobans answered the call to duty, some never to return," he said.

Charles said that earlier in the day he had met with officers from the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and the air reserve, while Camilla met with members of the Queen's Own Rifles.

"Hearing of their recent service in Afghanistan and other conflict zones reminded me of the sacrifices that they and other Canadians have made in the service of their country," he said.

He added that in about two weeks' time, "It will be our privilege to stand next to some of Canada's World War II veterans on Juno Beach."

Prince met, fed polar bear

The ceremony concluded a busy 27-hour trip to the Manitoba capital, in which Charles fed a polar bear at the Assiniboine Park Zoo and Camilla met dancers at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Charles met Hudson, one of the polar bears at its Journey to Churchill exhibit, and was allowed to slip some meat through the bear's cage using a pair of tongs.

There was a look of mock trepidation on the prince's face as he came close to Hudson, whose large paws drew a remark from Charles.

A zookeeper used the opportunity to explain how polar bears in the wild can pull prey from the water with one swipe.

Charles mentioned the polar bear encounter in his speech Wednesday evening, saying, "I was offered a choice between two pairs of tongs with which to feed this polar bear … I chose the longer tongs."

"But to my astonishment, it ate a series of sandwiches," he added, as the audience laughed. 

Visited Winnie the Pooh gallery

Before meeting Hudson, Charles and Camilla met another famous Winnipeg bear — they toured a small gallery of artwork, books and other materials connected to Winnie the Pooh, the famous literary bear named after Winnipeg.

Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian and soldier with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, donated a bear cub named Winnie (short for his hometown of Winnipeg) to the London Zoo. The black bear cub later inspired the creation of A.A. Milne's famous children's book character.

The Pooh Gallery, located on the second floor of the Pavilion Gallery Museum at Assiniboine Park, houses a permanent collection of Winnie the Pooh artifacts and memorabilia.

The royal couple looked at a 1930 oil painting of Winnie the Pooh staring into a honey pot by Ernest Shepard, and looked at a photo of the original Winnipeg bear.

"They're so familiar," Charles said to Camilla.

Earlier in the morning, about 200 cheering schoolchildren greeted the royal couple at Stevenson Hangar, where they learned about the city's aerospace industry.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall helped mark Aviation and Aerospace Day in Manitoba, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his wife, Laureen, and other dignitaries.

Charles observed that things are different in the province from when he last visited 18 years ago, but one thing remains the same.

"So much has changed since my last visit to Manitoba in 1996," he said. "But what has most assuredly not changed is the vitality of this province and the optimism for Canada's future."

Visited Nova Scotia, P.E.I.

The royal couple arrived in Manitoba’s capital city Tuesday evening after spending two days in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

After arriving in a drizzle Tuesday night, the couple were whisked to a reception at Government House on the grounds of the Manitoba legislative building.

The guests there included hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Jones's Olympic gold medal-winning curling team, Premier Greg Selinger, and Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee and his wife, Anita Lee.

​In addition to meeting Hudson on Wednesday, Charles looked over the bear's new home. The zoo's Journey to Churchill exhibit, when completed this summer, will house polar bears and other Arctic species, in three distinctive zones along a 10‑acre route.

Charles, accompanied by Selinger, Mayor Sam Katz and others, viewed an enclosure for seals, still under construction. The glass tunnel will allow people to walk underneath swimming seals, while a similar one will allow zoo visitors to view polar bears from beneath the water.

A plaque was also unveiled to commemorate the inaugural visit to the exhibit, and a park official presented the prince with a polar teddy bear.

Several photos were temporarily put up in the area of Journey to Churchill — photos of the prince's visit to Churchill in northern Manitoba in 1996. Charles shook hands with Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, who was mayor in 1996 as well.

"I've still got that. Very treasured," Charles said as he looked at a photo of a polar bear carving given to him on that visit.

The Fort Garry Horse army reserve gave Charles and Camilla six toy bears, clad in military uniforms, at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory.

Camilla toured Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Camilla toured the home of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in downtown Winnipeg during the afternoon.

She saw the ballet's wardrobe department and observed an outreach dance class for inner-city youth and an explorability class for dancers with limited mobility.

Camilla also watched a pas de deux featuring two dancers from the ballet school's professional division.

"The Royal Family does a lot for charities through the Prince's Trust, et cetera, and Camilla is quite interested in the arts," said Armelle Evoy, who was hoping to catch a glimpse of Camilla.

"It's great she's visiting our world famous Royal Winnipeg Ballet," Evoy said.

The Duchess of Cornwall also visited Assiniboine Credit Union on McGregor Street to learn about finance programs that help community members.

Charles visits St. Boniface, Exchange

Meanwhile, Charles took part in the official opening of Place Bernadette Poirier, a facility in St. Boniface for people with mental health needs, then went to the Exchange District to tour Innovation Alley, a technology sector hub.

Ex-CFL lineman and current restaurant owner Obby Khan offered some lunch from his eatery, Shawarma Khan, to Prince Charles.

Khan had offered Charles one of his juices from his new restaurant, the Green Carrot Juice Company, but when the prince asked for hot tea — with milk — he spent several minutes running to nearby businesses to secure some milk.

Khan said Charles was interested in hearing about his businesses, but he didn't expect him to taste much of the food. He was told that at many of these functions, the prince doesn't actually eat the food offered.

"I asked Scotland Yard on Monday, 'Can I just like tackle him and give him some food?' And they're like, 'No, you definitely cannot touch him,'" Khan, a former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, said with a laugh.

"The joke went over fine. They all laughed at me and said, 'You're a big guy, but we have a lot more guys than just you.'"

With files from The Canadian Press